*Spoiler warning: This review contains spoilers for the Star Wars Rebels episode “Rebel Assault.”
One thing that Star Wars has always done exceedingly well is subvert expectations. “Rebel Assault,” this week’s episode of Star Wars Rebels follows that tradition with a story that shatters assumptions from the outset. With this first half of the season seemingly building toward an epic clash against the Empire, “Rebel Assault” instead takes the narrative on a downward trajectory much faster than many probably expected.
X-wings make their long-awaited debut in “Rebel Assault,” as the legendary starships play a key role in the Rebellion’s planned attack on the Imperial factory located on Lothal. Sheathed in green livery and led by Hera Syndulla, this particular branch of Phoenix Squadron is tasked with penetrating the planet-wide blockade and providing air support for the ground troops led by Kanan, Ezra, Sabine, and Zeb. The flight choreography is spectacular during this opening sequence and the animation is nothing short of cinematic, calling immediately to mind the Rebels’ attack on Scarif in Rogue One and on the Death Star in A New Hope. Also of note is the inclusion of Mart Mattin (from “Iron Squadron”) as one of Hera’s pilots. My only quibble with this excerpt of “Rebel Assault” is that while Phoenix Squadron employs Y-wings in addition to the X-wings, there is no mention of the B-wing. As seen in “Wings of the Master,” the B-wing is especially proficient in busting blockades, but perhaps the Rebellion did not deem the assault on Lothal to be the best opportunity to use a starship barely out of the prototype phase. Ultimately, we know the B-wing will be employed over Endor in Return of the Jedi, but it would’ve been fun to at least hear it mentioned in “Rebel Assault.”
Hera’s piloting during this battle reveals capabilities of the X-wing never before seen, and the bar has been raised for future pilots portrayed in Star Wars media (Poe Dameron, I’m looking at you). Even Vult Skerris in his TIE Defender Elite is no match for the Twi’lek aviatrix, causing the man’s hubris to lead him to the point of defying a direct order from Grand Admiral Thrawn. The decision is a fatal one for Skerris and a costly (but not devastating) one for Thrawn (who always seems to have a back-up plan), as Hera and most of Phoenix Squadron make their way through a hole in the blockade and into Lothal’s atmosphere. Like Kassius Konstantine (who died in “Zero Hour”) before him, Vult Skerris finds that second-guessing Thrawn can have catastrophic consequences.
Insubordination might be the only thing to keep Grand Admiral Thrawn from quashing the Rebellion once and for all, for even with Skerris’ blunder and the loss of two massive Imperial starships, the Rebel assault referred to in this episode’s title ends in complete disaster. Thrawn did in fact have a contingency plan in case the blockade failed, and Hera and her fellow Phoenix Squadron pilots—including Mart—are swiftly dispatched over Lothal’s Capital City by a large contingent of TIE fighters.
Kanan and the other members of the Ghost crew witness the fallout from this battle and initially decide that an immediate rescue is ill-advised. However, Kanan ultimately decides that his attachment to Hera is cause enough to risk his own life to possibly save hers and he begins to race back toward Capital City. However, the reckless nature of his actions does not go unnoticed by the Force. Rather, a pack of Loth-wolves intercede and cause Kanan to consider his rescue plan more carefully. As we’ve heard on Rebels before, the ways we choose to fight is just as important as if we fight.
Kanan and Hera have always shared a special bond, but “Rebel Assault” reminds us that the pair share an ideology as well, for both Hera and Kanan exhibit a sacrificial love for others in this episode. While Kanan’s actions certainly stem from a romantic attachment, Hera has always shown a propensity toward compassion towards all her fellow creatures—regardless of her pre-existing relationship with them. This trend continues in “Rebel Assault” as Hera’s escape through Lothal’s Capital City becomes more about helping her fellow Rebels (in this case, Mart and Chopper) than saving her own skin. And with Rukh on the hunt after them, it quickly becomes clear that Hera may have to consider how best to cut her losses.
Rukh, re-introduced in last week’s “Kindred,” is a relentless pursuer of his prey through the streets of Capital City, and the Noghri assassin comes off as a cross between a simian and a ninja. Leaping and bounding effortlessly from rooftop to rooftop, Rukh’s athleticism evokes a sinister Spider-Man, and it is only in close-quarters combat with Hera that he fails to intimidate. Whether it was Rukh’s weakness or Hera’s prowess is debatable, but it seemed to me that Rukh should’ve had any easier time overpowering his quarry.
In any case, Rukh ultimately defeats and captures Hera—as the valiant general paves the way for Mart and Chopper to escape at her expense. The pair successfully make it out of the city and relay Hera’s plight to Kanan. But how the Jedi will respond to this information will have to wait as “Rebel Assault” closes on a cliffhanger. Star Wars Rebels is going on hiatus for the next few weeks, paving the way for our attention to turn fully to The Last Jedi. When it returns, we’ll be in the homestretch, and short of Hera, Chopper, and the Ghost making it through, EVERYTHING is on the table.
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